Ancient Olympia: The Original Field of Dreams

M. Ford Cochran
National Geographic News
February 14, 2002
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It is a tradition as old as history: Athletes from distant lands gather to test their mettle before throngs of cheering fans. Indeed, the inaugural Olympic games—held in the summer of 776 B.C. at the sanctuary of Zeus in Olympia—are widely believed to be the first precisely dated events in the annals of ancient Greece.

Every four years for more than a millennium, rival and often warring city-states put aside their differences and invoked a sacred truce. They sent their fastest, their strongest, their most skillful men and boys to compete for personal bragging rights and homeland pride. The names of the greatest Olympic athletes were known throughout Greece, their likenesses re-created in sculpture and on pottery for the ages.

Then the games disappeared for more than 1,500 years.

The Olympics were reborn in 1896 in Athens, Greece. Since then, they've traveled to cities around the world and drawn an increasingly global field of competitors—as well as an increasingly global audience. In 2004, they'll come home once again to Greece, as the Summer Olympics return to Athens.

Now, celebrate the glory of the Olympics, ancient and new, in this gallery of images of the original field of dreams: View Photo Gallery >>

Book now to see Olympia and Athens, site of the 2004 Summer Olympics, with National Geographic Expeditions. Click here.

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